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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                    105
'There is no more room in the corridor. You your-
self. ..."
"You yourself! You yourself! What about forty-
two?"
"That's the colonels' ward."
"Colonels'!" the professor burst out. "What fool in-
vented that?"
"But we were told: "Leave a reserve for Heroes of the
Soviet Union.'"
"Heroes! Heroes! In this war all are heroes! But why
are you trying to teach me? Who is in charge here? Put
these men into forty-two at once. Inventing all sorts of
nonsense like 'colonels' ward'!"
He went off, accompanied by his now subdued retinue,
but soon turned back, bent over Meresyev's bed, and
placing his puffy hand, the skin of which was peeling
from the effects of all sorts of disinfectants, upon the
airman's shoulder, he asked him:
"Is it true that you crawled behind the German lines
for over two weeks?"
"Have I got gangrene?" inquired Meresyev, in his turn,
in a sinking voice.
The professor cast an angry glance at his retinue that
had halted at the door, looked straight into the airman's
large black eyes that expressed grief and anxiety, and
bluntly said:
"It would be a sin to deceive a man like you. Yes, it's
gangrene. But keep your chin up. There are no incurable
diseases, just as there are no hopeless situations. Did you
get that? That's right!"
And he stalked off, tall and brisk, and soon, through
the glass door of the corridor, the distant rumble of his
growling voice was heard.
"A funny old boy," said Meresyev, following the
departing figure with his heavy eyes.
"He's crazy. Did you hear him? Playing up to us. We
know these simple ones," answered Kukushkin from his
bed with a crooked smile. "So we have the honour of
being put into the 'colonels' ward'."
"Gangrene," said Meresyev softly, and repeated sadly^
"gangrene/2